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Movie Review: 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Christopher Nolan's Batman finale stutters, but it's got enough pulse-pounding action for true fans


Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating PG-13‎‎ Running Time: ‎2hr 44min
Stars: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman

En Español | The Dark Knight rises slower than a soufflé, and halfway through the Caped Crusader simply disappears from the movie for the longest time. But thanks to some truly breathtaking action scenes and a few surprisingly poignant performances, the 2 1/2-hour finale to director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy delivers pretty much everything fans have been waiting for.

Stop me if you've heard this one: A master criminal comes to Gotham City, seizes control and terrorizes the populace.

See also: Oliver Stone's Savages.

Part of the mythology of Batman has always seemed to be that Gotham is some sort of city-state that never gets any help from the outside. (Really, do you think the feds would actually stand by helplessly while the Penguin or the Joker rampaged through New York?)

To its credit,The Dark Knight Rises goes to great pains to explain just why the government is helpless in this case, but that's one of several meandering plot points that do little but add minutes to the film's running time. Likewise, an extended scene in which the super-villain, named Bane, ransacks the Gotham Stock Exchange has little to do with the story (other than to elicit impossible-to-resist Bain Capital jokes. Or is that just me?). And the whole middle section, in which Batman/Bruce Wayne is shipped off by Bane to some hole-in-the-ground prison in what appears to be Tibet, serves only to keep the star of the show out of the action while his buddies back in Gotham suffer under Bane's iron fist.


Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight Rises." — Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Listen, I know we're talking Batman here, but whereas the most recent incarnation of the series has always traded in the implausible, Nolan has previously been too careful a filmmaker to lapse into the utterly ridiculous. This time around, though, characters take courses of action that have no point, even from their twisted perspectives.

Mass murderer Bane (Tom Hardy) traps Gotham's entire police force in subway tunnels, but why does he go to the trouble of feeding them all to keep them alive for months? Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, filling out her leather suit very nicely, thank you) betrays Batman to Bane, dooming him to life in a hole in Tibet. So why, after he escapes and returns (somehow) to Gotham, does he just give her a crooked little "you naughty girl" smile? Then there's Batman/Bruce Wayne himself, played with expected solemnity by Christian Bale: We learn early on that he is nearly crippled by arthritis, yet he looks pretty nimble scaling the wall of that prison, a barrier that has supposedly been defeating men for centuries. Did I miss the scene where he had knee replacement surgery?

Next: Why do they put the best parts in the trailer. »

I mention all of this implausability only because Nolan is one of Hollywood's most persnickety writer-directors. The man wrote Memento, for crying out loud, the most exquisitely crafted piece of screenwriting of the past decade or so. It's disheartening to see him get so sloppy, and on such a gargantuan scale. On the other hand, Nolan's action scenes are remarkably cogent. You always know who's hitting whom, and who is getting the upper hand, even in the truly head-spinning scene where two mobs, easily numbering a thousand or so each, run at each other full tilt from opposite ends of a narrow city street and clash, like human tides.

Nolan also coaxes some wonderfully nuanced performances from the veterans in his cast. Michael Caine, as Alfred the butler, seems to get much more screen time than he did in the earlier installments, and he's truly moving as he pours out his affection for Bruce. Morgan Freeman, playing the genius inventor who comes up with all of Batman's toys, is also given a surprisingly large role this time around, and he makes the most of it. And as police Commissioner Jim Gordon, Gary Oldman effectively portrays a man who suffers for having lived a lie — even though it was a lie that inspired millions.

Finally, a word about movie trailers. There's a moment in The Dark Knight Rises when former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward bolts toward the goal line, unaware that explosives are causing the entire playing field to implode behind him in an explosive-triggered landslide. 

Had I not already seen that mind-boggling spectacle, I'm pretty sure I would have needed to step out to the lobby to catch my breath.

But I had seen it, first on a little YouTube screen, then on TV. Pretty soon I'd seen Ward scamper one step ahead of the abyss more times than we ever saw O.J. Simpson vault over suitcases in those old Hertz commercials.

Well, surprise — it's the best scene in the whole movie. And that cool flying Bat plane? Well, if you've seen the commercial, you've seen it all. Same thing for the best lines between Batman and Catwoman. And the bad guy's most menacing moments, too.

Come to think of it, maybe the perfect length for The Dark Knight Rises would be just about 60 seconds.

You may also like: Christopher Nolan's Inception.

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